The Full (Purna) picture
“To darkness are they doomed who devote themselves only to life in the world, and to a greater darkness they who devote themselves only to meditation. Life in the world alone leads to one result, meditation alone leads to another. So have we heard from the wise. They who devote themselves both to life in the world and to meditation, by life in the world overcome death, and by meditation achieve immortality” (Isha Upanishad 9-11).
Wise teachers have pointed out that even though non-duality is the actual state of things, in our present condition of being netted in Maya we need to know that all is one but live as though duality is also real. The world may not be ultimately real, but we need to work through the puzzles presented to us by relative experience.
Two serious errors can be committed by the thoughtful aspirant: 1) the conclusion that since none of it is real nothing really matters and there is no need for spiritual endeavor; and 2) the conclusion that since only the spiritual is real we should ignore the external and the material aspects of life and put all our attention on the inner spiritual side of life. But right there the error is uncovered, for the spiritual is only a side of life–as is the material–and together they make the two-sided whole. Or we can look at it in an even better and truer way: the material is the spiritual and therefore demands and deserves our full attention as well as the obviously spiritual aspects of life. This is the meaning of the Vedic verse beginning purnamadah purnamidam:
That is the Full, this is the Full.
The Full has come out of the Full.
If we take the Full from the Full
It is the Full that yet remains.
The two are really–and always–the One. To reject or turn from one is to reject and turn from the All. It cannot be without meaning that the Vedas and upanishads were written by sages who lived fully in the world with families and their attendant responsibilities, including that of making a livelihood. Of course it was the Satya Yuga then, and earthly life was very different from life in our present age. Nevertheless, those who like to excuse themselves from striving for Self-realization by citing their involvement in the world and worldly responsibilities should consider the historical facts. (And anyway, where exactly do they think the monastics are living?).
From darkness to greater darkness
“To darkness are they doomed who devote themselves only to life in the world, and to a greater darkness they who devote themselves only to meditation.”
The Purna, the Full (it also means the Complete) is one, yet it is dual. This makes no sense, but considering the limitation of our intellects that should be no surprise. It is our intuition that must come into function when we begin dealing with these higher spheres of reality. We, too, are dual, being image-replicas of the Divine Archetype. Just as God is both relative and absolute, both immanent and transcendent, so are we on a miniature scale. We, too, then, must learn to function fully in both spheres, for since they are essentially one, if we do not so function we will be partial, incomplete, and therefore faulty rather than perfect–which originally meant to be complete rather than without fault. (“Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” Matthew 5:48).
One of the fundamental errors of dualistic religion is its setting of the material against the spiritual and thereby insisting that the material must be rejected and the spiritual alone embraced. This produces deep spiritual psychosis, for it is simply impossible to do and also involves a rejection of an eternal part of ourselves (and God). The upanishads in contrast make it clear that the two are really one and must both be cultivated–according to the principles of dharma, of course–for us to attain the consciousness of perfect unity in ourselves and in God.
Those who “devote themselves only to life in the world” become sunk in the limitations of materiality and addicted to its vagaries. Egoism and intense selfishness and exploitation of both the world and those living in it with us can be the sole result of such a limited focus. Having only a perspective of mortality, the higher nature of the individual is suppressed to give free rein to the dog-eat-dog, every-man-for-himself, the-world-is-a-jungle attitude that must arise from preoccupation with external existence. Having no idea of the true nature of either the world, ourselves, or our fellow human beings, only chaos and destruction can come to us.
On the other hand, those “who devote themselves only to meditation” or abstract philosophizing to the exclusion of material considerations and practical living, come to a worse result: complete psychological disintegration (literally) and alienation from any form of reality. Hypocrisy also results, because to even eat and drink is to admit the necessity of physicality, and that food must come from somewhere, so dependence on those regarded as “the ignorant and astray” becomes necessary. It reminds me of a cartoon I saw years ago in an emigre Russian newspaper just after the United States had supplied the Soviet Union with incredibly huge amounts of grain and saved their economy and the life of millions. Two old ladies were sweeping the street in Red Square. One was saying to the other: “It is good we did not kill all the Capitalists; otherwise we would have starved to death.” How can a person justify living off those whose earthly involvement they despise and condemn? The Bhagavad Gita discusses this matter thoroughly and points out the folly of the “spirituals” who pretend to have transcended worldly concerns.
We must function in matter and in spirit. Both elements must be integrated through the following of dharma to complete the picture and solve the evolutionary puzzle. The material must be spiritualized and the spiritual must be materialized in the sense of making both practical and beneficial to one another. In this endeavor the teachings of the Bhagavad Gita are indispensable, for: “Life in the world alone leads to one result, meditation alone leads to another. So have we heard from the wise” (Isha Upanishad 10).
From death to immortality
“They who devote themselves both to life in the world and to meditation, by life in the world overcome death, and by meditation achieve immortality” (Isha Upanishad 11).
Life is not just some maze to be somehow gotten through, or a Monopoly board with random advances and regressions–and there is certainly no Get Out of Jail Free. Rather, life demands the fullest exercise of the two faculties that mark human beings out from the rest of earthly life-forms: developed reason and intuition. Intelligence of the highest order is necessary. This does not mean that the aspirant needs to be an intellectual, but he must be intelligent. Stupid people simply do not make it–mostly because stupid people never seek it. Nor can the seeker’s intelligence be kept on the shelf for only occasional use and amusement. At all times the yogi must be keenly aware of what is going on in his life sphere and ever seeking to understand and work out the mystery. As already said, he needs highly developed intuition as well. Both these are only produced by meditation. This is because both intelligence and intuition (direct knowledge) are divine attributes. In the Bhagavad Gita Krishna declares himself to be intelligence (7:10; 10:34) and the knowledge of the mystic (9:12). In the Katha Upanishad (2:2:13) Brahman is said to be the “intelligence of the intelligent,” and in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (2:1:13) the sage Gargya says: “The being who dwells in the heart as intelligence–him I meditate upon as Brahman.” I am not speaking of cunning or cleverness or “savvy;” I am speaking of the intelligence which only arises in those who are of highly evolved consciousness.
It is those who possess right intelligence and right intuition that can live both the inner and outer lives simultaneously–not first one and then the other in alternating cycles–in a spiritually productive (i.e., evolutionary) manner. By doing so they will accomplish two things: they will come to understand the real meaning and purpose of all they experience and do and thereby learn the lessons for which they came into relative existence; and they will come to experience (not just intellectually think) that the two are really one, manifestations of the One. Having seen the One in all, they have attained immortality even in this mortal life.
A final point. Notice that the upanishadic sage speaks of being devoted to the outer and inner lives. This means steadiness and regularity in practice as well as adamant adherence to the required disciplines such as yama and niyama. But most important it means wanting, even loving, to lead the outer and inner lives according to the precepts of dharma. There is no place here for grudging admittance of necessity, of stingy eking out of the barest minimum that is required, grumbling and resenting and wishing it need not be so. Such persons should not even try. They are not just losers, they are losses.
Consider the perspective of a Christ. Crucifixion was the most horrible of deaths, yet according to Saint Paul: “Jesus… for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame” (Hebrews 12:2). What a different perspective from the morbid and sentimental carryings-on over the passion of Jesus that some Christians engage in. Loving the world and the body that links them to the world, nothing seems to them more painful or tragic than its torture and death. But Jesus hastened to the mockery, the scourging, and the crucifixion for the joy that was set before him. No wonder he has been misunderstood and rejected through the ages by those who bear his name.
Reinforcing the idea
“To darkness are they doomed who worship only the body, and to greater darkness they who worship only the spirit. Worship of the body alone leads to one result, worship of the spirit leads to another. So have we heard from the wise. They who worship both the body and the spirit, by the body overcome death, and by the spirit achieve immortality” (Isha Upanishad 12-14).
The basic idea of these verses has already been covered, but we should notice the use of the word “worship.” We are used to thinking of worship only in relation to God, but it comes from an older form, worthship, which meant to acknowledge the value and significance of something. Therefore Swami Prabhavananda was wise in selecting this word for his translation.
The lesson here is the need to value both body and spirit. I know that Jesus said, “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other” (Matthew 6:24), but we are striving to be not men but gods, so we are going to have to manage it. And anyhow, we are not interesting in serving the body or the spirit but in mastering them.
The body is the instrument of evolution, so to despise and neglect it under the guise of spirituality is foolish. Any machine that malfunctions should be repaired, not despised and tossed away, the body included. Also, hidden within the body are many doorways to higher consciousness. Therefore the body must be worked on to become the evolutionary device it is intended to be. The first step is purification, and that includes two major factors: celibacy and pure diet which excludes all meat, fish, eggs, nicotine, and alcohol. There is no getting around it. Just take a look at those who are not purifying themselves in these two ways and you will have proof enough. All the rationalizing and mind-gaming in the world cannot contravene the truth: brahmacharya (continence) and ahimsa (non-killing), and shaucha (purification) are absolute essentials for those who seek higher consciousness.
Let us take a look at what the Chandogya Upanishad tells us about food. “Food when eaten becomes threefold. What is coarsest in it becomes faeces, what is medium becomes flesh and what is subtlest becomes mind. Water when drunk becomes threefold. What is coarsest in it becomes urine, what is medium becomes blood and what is subtlest becomes prana. The mind, my dear, consists of food, the prana of water” (Chandogya Upanishad 5:5:1, 2, 4). “That, my dear, which is the subtlest part of curds rises, when they are churned and becomes butter. In the same manner, my dear, that which is the subtlest part of the food that is eaten rises and becomes mind. The subtlest part of the water that is drunk rises and becomes prana. Thus, my dear, the mind consists of food, the prana consists of water” (Chandogya Upanishad 6:6:1-3, 5).
Body and mind come from the food we eat. Thus our food must be both as pure as possible and also blessed by being offered to God. And the conduct of the body must be as pure as possible and its deeds worthy of being offered to God. Action and thought determine the quality of body and mind. Ethics and good thoughts are also essential, but purity of body and mind is the crown jewel. Through these means both body and spirit are truly worshipped and immortality is gained.
Read the next article in the Upanishads for Awakening: Seeing Beyond the Sun
Sections in the Upanishads for Awakening:
- The Isha Upanishad
- The Kena Upanishad
- The Katha Upanishad
- The Past is the Future
- Seeing Death, Seeing Life
- The Good and the Pleasant
- The Way of Ignorance
- The Mystery of the Self
- How to Either Know or Not Know the Self
- From the Unreal to the Real
- Finding the Treasure
- The Transcendent Reality of the Self
- The Immortal Self
- The Indwelling Self
- The Omnipresent Self
- The Sorrowless Self
- Who Can Know the Self?
- The All-Consuming Self
- The Divine Indwellers
- The Chariot
- The Chariot’s Journey
- The Glorious Way
- To Know The Self
- The Power of Enlightenment
- The Infinite Self
- The Dweller in the Heart
- The Birthless Self
- The Shining Self
- The Life-Giving Self
- The Eternal Brahman–The Eternal Self
- The Radiant Self
- The Universal Tree
- Hierarchy of Consciousness
- From Mortality to Immortality
- The Prashna Upanishad
- The Mundaka Upanishad
- The Mandukya Upanishad
- The Taittiriya Upanishad
- The Aitareya Upanishad
- The Chandogya Upanishad
- The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad
- The Shvetashvatara Upanishad
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